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Michigan hometown hosts a memorial service for Betty Ford

Betty Ford was laid to rest in her Michigan hometown. Betty Ford was laid to rest in her Michigan hometown.
By Kathy Barks Hoffman and Tim Martin
Associated Press / July 15, 2011

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - With a military honor guard carrying her casket, Betty Ford returned yesterday to the church where she and her husband got married more than 60 years ago, a wedding that launched the unassuming Michigan couple on an unexpected path to the White House.

Ford’s children were joined for the final memorial service by prominent political figures and hundreds of mourners from her hometown of Grand Rapids. The crowd outside Grace Episcopal Church stood in hushed silence as nine pallbearers brought her casket inside while softly counting out military cadence.

At the podium, son Steven Ford described the family’s bond, referring to them as a naval fleet.

“Dad was the aircraft carrier. I know that,’’ he said. “If Mom was in our fleet, which she was, she was the hospital ship. She was the one there with the love and the comfort.’’

“She just knew how to love,’’ he added. “We felt her love long before her spotlight came . . . And then the world got to see her love.’’

Historian Richard Norton Smith praised Ford’s uncommon candor about breast cancer and substance abuse and her outspoken support for women’s rights.

“Millions who never met her felt they knew Betty Ford,’’ Smith said. “They identified with her struggles.’’ At a time when “a lethal silence enveloped the subject of breast cancer like a London fog,’’ Ford spoke openly of her own mastectomy and became a face of recovery, not disease, Smith said.

After leaving the White House, she did the same with drug and alcohol addiction.

“Simply by being herself, she made it easier for countless others to follow suit,’’ he said.

In recent years, as Ford became more ill, she asked her children, “When are you going to let me go and be with my boyfriend?’’ Smith said.

She got her wish yesterday. She was to be buried at the museum, next to her husband, on what would have been his 98th birthday.

“Our sorrow is exceeded by our joy for we know that the story of Elizabeth Bloomer Ford does not end in a Grand Rapids hillside,’’ Smith said. “Betty Ford is where she wants to be - reunited with the love of her life and radiant in the glory of her ultimate homecoming.’’

Lynne Cheney, wife of former vice president Dick Cheney, said the mere mention of Ford’s name “brings good and hopeful things to mind.’’

“She spoke of living a page of history,’’ Cheney said. “And Betty Ford filled that page, and she filled it with . . . class and courage.’’

Also in attendance were Barbara Bush, former President Bill Clinton and Dick Cheney, who was President Ford’s chief of staff.

The church, a brick structure in a residential neighborhood, hosted a memorial for Gerald Ford following his death in 2006.

Although the crowds gathered Wednesday and yesterday in Michigan were smaller than those at Gerald Ford’s services, Betty Ford was remembered fondly for giving dance lessons and working as a fashion coordinator and clothing buyer at the local Herpolscheimer’s department store before marrying.

“She was the kind of woman we all would aspire to be,’’ said Karen Mouw of Grand Rapids.

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